5 Things We Learned at the Workspaces Conference

We had the opportunity to attend this year’s Workspaces conference, an annual event where workplace innovators from the nation’s top companies gather to explore the future of work through the lens of real estate, design, construction, and technology.

There were standout presentations from the likes of Keith Donovan, Head of Development at Microsoft, Brad Hautop, LinkedIn’s Global Head of Design & Build, and Scott Phillips, the Director of Corporate Real Estate at McDonald’s.

These leaders tackled some of the most pressing topics in the industry today, including how companies can use technology to better understand and transform the way people interact with their workplace, how data is driving improvements in employee engagement, and what criteria we can use to define a phenomenal work environment in today’s rapidly shifting landscape.

During the two-day conference in Palm Springs, we also had the opportunity to meet with a slew of progressive executives from some of the world’s biggest companies: Google, Merck, Chevron, Slack, the NBA, Uber, AT&T, Salesforce, NBC, and Genentech. Here are five of the most eye-opening insights from the event:

1. Evolution Takes Time…

Large legacy companies are really slow to change—even if they want to. Some of them have furniture and space designs from as far back as 35 years ago. But after all that time, they still find it challenging to reinvent spaces in smart, cost-effective ways that will appeal to their employees.

Part of the challenge is that there used to be a clear delineation between work and home—the office was a centralized location, technology was inflexible, and most people stuck to a traditional 9-to-5 routine. But in the era of digital transformation, employees are always on, and successful workplaces have to reflect their staff’s personal preferences, lifestyle habits, and cultural mores if they hope to thrive. In other words, organizations have to pay more attention to the employer/employee value exchange to build a work environment that engages and empowers people, and ultimately unlocks their potential value.

2. …But Change is a Priority

Despite the slow pace of change, larger companies are all thinking about how to improve the workplace experience. For instance, LinkedIn has a 20,000 square-foot space dedicated to workplace innovation. This space combines an active workplace experimentation program with a workplace laboratory to better understand what causes workforce distractions instead of energizing employees. Much like LinkedIn, other major organizations are racing to uncover which types of environments help their teams collaborate most successfully.

3. High-Tech Isn’t Always High-Return

Bigger companies don't believe in the current value of sensors and IoT enough to invest in this technology or to pay more for it...although they all have ideas about how it can be used. Apart from the issue of price, there’s also skepticism about the effectiveness of these cutting-edge tech advances, since many companies are seeing satisfying results from more traditional methods of gauging employee sentiment. Direct communication through surveys, suggestion slips, and even one-on-one conversations still provide clear workplace feedback for companies of most sizes.

4. Don’t Buy, Subscribe

Given budgetary constraints and a focus on reducing capital expenditure, larger organizations are looking to save costs by consuming furniture, as-a-service. These services offer tailored settings customizable for an individual brand and how its people work best, all on flexible terms with predictable monthly payments. Obtaining modular, custom-designed furniture through a subscription model is seen as a smart way to future-proof a workplace amid an ever-changing market.

5. A Broker is a BFF

Enterprise companies generally love their brokers. They view them as partners who help them avoid making common mistakes. Brokers typically function as an extension of the company they represent, and help simplify and streamline the real estate buying process. Without them, most enterprises—particularly the ones undergoing large-scale expansion efforts—would feel lost.

A common theme throughout these discussions was the importance of using the workspace to win and retain new talent. The world’s top companies recognize that employees’ expectations are increasingly determined by their experiences as consumers outside the office, and that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies as much as $600 billion a year.

That’s why big enterprises are focused on crafting spaces and setting new standards that align with workers’ personal lives. In order to keep up with the rapidly changing nature of work, more businesses are turning to future-proof solutions like flexible real estate arrangements, modular furniture subscription services, and custom-designed spaces.

If there’s one thing the Workspaces conference taught us, it’s that even the most successful companies in the world still need to leverage the latest tools and knowledge to create spaces that inspire and unlock the hidden potential of their employees.